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Occupation magazine - Siege, Wall, Checkpoints
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It really has happend - East Jerusalem in the North is separated from the West Bank
The often announced and much feared `upgrading` of Qalandiya c.p. to a border or closure checkpoint (meaning total prohibition on West Bank Palestinians to enter Israel unless they have a special permit) has come into effect today. The gap between the blocks of the wall has been closed with a fence and thus the separation between south (Ar-Ram) and north (the so called `terminal`) was completed. The population is totally under shock and confusion is all-around. People with valid work permits were sent back at the checkpoint, because the new procedures actually invalidate all the existing permits and only special permits for Atarot were respected today! The new road from Ramallah to Jerusalem is open for Jerusalemites only and also for one driver only - additional passengers, even if they are Jerusalem residents have to leave the car and pass the checkpoint by foot. Why? These are the orders! Residents of Bir Naballah and the surroundings have to go first to Ramallah and from there take the new road - called Road of Life Texture (כביש מרקם חיים) - which multiplies significantly time and expenses of the journey. The general sense of disaster was matched by stormy weather - sand storm and biting cold .
At Ar-Ram we learn that the strict closure allows only for passage of Jerusalemites and `humanitarian` cases. North of the checkpoint, 300 m down the road, concrete blocks hamper the east - west movement of cars and a group of soldiers guards the junction so that no Palestinian car can go to the western side of the wall. Needless to say that this causes major traffic jams!
Our taxi driver offered us a ride straight to Ramallah and we understood that big changes must have taken place if this was possible. And indeed the road from Qalandiya to the east has been opened and cars can go on to the next junction, turn left and continue to Ramallah.
We got off at Qalandiya and had first to re orientate. We were standing in front of the wall, which cannot be crossed anymore through the gap between its blocks. A gate has been established there today in the morning and 6 soldiers were guarding it. Later in the afternoon the gate will be `adorned` with barbed wire. We tried to overcome our first shock and people turned to us with their questions, which we could not answer, such as `my trolley was taken away by a soldier yesterday at the checkpoint and today I cannot even get there!`. We were told that in the morning school children have climbed over the fence to the other side.
We decided to walk eastward and see if we can reach the checkpoint from the other side. The yellow bar has been removed and cars can continue on their way to the West Bank, or turn left to Ramallah. We walked on the road with the cars, turned left and arrived at the former checking point of the vehicles. No soldiers and no checkpoint. Passage was open.
People approached us and shared their worries about the new situation. We also heard about the 15 year old boy, who has been killed in the course of an army incursion into Qalandiya Camp yesterday in the afternoon. Another young victim whom we can add as the fifth child to the `Chronicle of foretold deaths`. As long as armed soldiers will enter the Camp, they will be met by stone throwing youngsters and children will be shot at and killed.
We went to the car checking station. 2 soldiers talked to the drivers through loud speakers, asked to see their IDs and told them that only the driver was allowed to pass with the car (and only Jerusalem residents, of course). All the other passengers, except for children and old or sick people, have to pass through the checkpoint by foot. We could not understand this procedure and the soldiers could not give any reasonable explanation. One of the them told us that the existing work permits were not valid today and that only `humanitarian` cases can pass.
We went to the pedestrians` passage, which was rather empty. We observed the checkpoint for a while, sitting on the benches and talking to people, who were being sent back. Their work permits were not respected today. They were desperate and did not know where to go. 4 Women came back and ask us what to do. We felt frustrated and helpless in the face of so much misery. One man from Bidu described the long way he will have to take now. To Ramallah and from there through the new road, `Texture of Life Road` (כביש מרקם חיים) to the area of Modiin. He pointed out that a laborer who has earned IS 50 - 60 a day, cannot spend IS 50 every day for travel expenses and that he will have eventually to stay at home. Dr. Said Zeedani wrote in his article `A Palestinian Perspective on the Checkpoints` about the latent implications of the checkpoints on the Palestinians - they give up trying to pass the checkpoints. It is a coping mechanism to spare ourselves the hazard and costs of a humiliating journey.
We stood waiting in one of the lanes. One laborer after the other is sent back. We heard the soldiers shouting `only special permit for Atarot can pass`. There was a lot of screaming and bullying by soldiers. It was an old man`s turn to be checked. He was ordered in a nasty way to open his jacket and his trousers. He refused. The soldier barked at him to enter the checking room at the side. He refused and stood there motionless. The soldier showered him again with vulgar expressions. We called Ophir and Ella and complained about the behavior of the soldier. After a couple of minutes the soldier was being exchanged and a more civil one was taking over. When approached like a human being in a civil language, the old man performed all the steps of the checking process without hesitation and could pass soon after.
Coming out from the checkpoint we found ourselves on the western side of the wall.We tried to catch a taxi which would bring us to Ar-Ram, where we have left our car. But from the western side there is no possibility to get to Ar-Ram checkpoint. Luckily we detected a small hole in the fence dividing east and west and saw some people crawling under it to the other side. We had no choice but to do the same. We lied on the ground and pushed ourselves with our buttocks to the other side. 3 old ladies squeezing themselves through this hole must have been quite a sight and people seemed to be amused. But the very moment we were on the other side, 3 soldiers turned up and wanted to know if we have seen the person, who has lifted the metal sheet to create an opening. Innocently we denied to have any knowledge and the soldiers hurried to put another row of barbed wire before the opening.
Back at Ar-Ram checkpoint there was the now almost obligatory traffic jam. In order to warm up a little, we sat in a coffee shop and drank hot tea. The owner told us that because of the newly built fence he has no access any more to his garbage bin, which is on the other side of the road!.
On this nerve-racking afternoon we got one more tiny little existential insight into the monstrosity of the occupation.
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